By James Wagner
December 1, 2010
Over the last two years, one of the many pleasures of being at Dowling College has been seeing the evolution of the Spoken Word Poetry Club. When it was founded, the group was a mostly informal gathering of people who got together to share their poetry. In recent semesters, the club has grown in leaps and bounds to the extent that the mainstream Long Island Poetry community now recognizes the Dowling College Spoken Word group as a staple in the Island’s poetic tradition.
There is something to be said about any group of people that gather together to share anything; but with poetry, people have found, there is a special connection between the reader/performer and the audience—something that is sometimes lost in rummaging through old texts. And while the great poets of the past certainly have things to teach us (and they often do), it is nice to be able to have a connection with the poets as well. At a Dowling College Open Mic night, you get just that—people sharing—and it is a very welcoming environment where everyone has a chance to listen and be listened to (something that is all-too-often missed in the “real world”). The Dowling College Open Mic nights have had as many as 75 people in attendance and have drawn in not only Dowling Students but students and poets from all across the Island.
Perhaps the first major breakthrough in bringing outside talent to the Dowling scene occurred in March, 2010 with the launching of the Examination Anthology—a book of poetry that comprised poets ranging from students to laureates (at least half a dozen Dowling students, including Spoken Word members, had poetry in the book as well). The related campus event had a great turnout, during which the book was sold and poets published in the book came to read—including Cliff Bleidner, founder and coordinator of the Performance Poets Association; Douglas G. Swezey, board member of the Long Island Poetry Collective; and Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan, founder of the North Sea Poetry Scene and current Suffolk County Poet Laureate. The Spoken Word Club has continued this tradition of launching poetry books from the campus—as was done this September with the launching of Perspectives: Poetry Concerning Autism and Other Disabilities. The event, despite occurring during the middle of a tornado, had over 60 people in attendance, provided a welcoming environment for the readers to share their poems, and helped to raise money for the E.J. Autism Foundation.
In addition to helping in the launching and promoting of already established poets and poetry, the club works to help emerging poets as well; just recently, the club brought in the founder and publisher of All-Book Books, Mankh (Walter E. Harris, III), to give a workshop on how to write Haiku. Mankh is known as a very well-respected local poet whose book Haiku One Breaths has been used in poetry classes at Stony Brook University. Those who attended the workshop found themselves filled with spontaneous bursts of creativity, and everyone walked away with a better understanding of the art of the shortest poetic form.
With its most recent change of administration, the Spoken Word Club intends to continue with its productive trend—planning to host a reading series with the help of the Bards Initiative (a local Long Island poetry organization) to bring in featured poets to read once a month. In addition, future book launchings, open-mic nights, and maybe even a slam (a poetry competition) are in store for the spring semester.
Spoken Word members have ventured into poetry readings beyond the Dowling Campus—many have attended readings held by the Performance Poets Association or the Bards Initiative and mingled with poetry prize winners and poet laureates—and they are welcomed as a breath of fresh air by the poetry community, who often comments on how the poetry of the younger generation is engaging and delivered with great energy that captivates an audience.
Even with all the steps forward the club has taken, the meetings are still a welcoming environment where students can share their work and form connections and lasting friendships as well as get honest, positive, and constructive feedback on their poetry, designed to help them become stronger in the art. Poets who have been forged in the Spoken Word Club have gone on to be published and recognized—and the friendships that have formed through it have lasted long past graduation. And Dowling, itself, has been cited by the Long Island Poetry Examiner as “a place welcoming to Long Island Poetry.”